Baltimore County Council considers bills to end pension 'double-dipping'

Baltimore County Council members will begin discussing a pair of bills Tuesday that could change or eliminate a pension program that has been criticized as allowing “double dipping.”

The practice, approved in 2010, allows some employees to accrue two pensions plus a lump-sum payout of deferred pension benefits if they retire from one job and take another county position. Others who retire from one job and return to another can receive both a pension check and a paycheck.

Many other jurisdictions that offer pensions don’t have such a provision — in most cases, employees who return for a second job can add to their existing pension, but not accrue an additional pension.

The Baltimore County program has drawn scrutiny because three top officials are in line for six-figure payouts plus two pensions when they retire: County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, environmental director Vincent Gardina and Sam Moxley, Kamenetz’s lobbyist.

All three are eligible for the program by virtue of their time spent on the county council, followed by jobs in the county administration.

A fourth top official, Arnold Jablon, who spent 25 years in a variety of county jobs before retiring in 2003, returned to become permits director under Kamenetz. He’s banking pension benefits from his first stint with the county and receiving a salary but is not earning credits toward a second pension.

Another 33 workers in the program are in public safety jobs, most of them retired police officers who now work part-time as police assistants or correctional assistants.

A few have higher-level jobs, including an assistant to the police chief, the emergency preparedness director and the manager of school security, according to information provided by the county. They are allowed to simultaneously receive a pension check and a paycheck — but not a lump-sum payout.

The program was created in 2010 as one of several amendments to a broader pension bill that changed benefits for county workers. The amendment was introduced on the night of the vote and was not discussed at a public hearing. Kamenetz, Gardina and Moxley were on the council at the time and voted for the bill.

Councilwoman Vicki Almond is sponsoring a bill that would do away with the language added in 2010, effectively stripping all the employees of their extra pension benefits. Almond, a Democrat from Reisterstown, is considering running for county executive next year.

The council’s lawyer has cautioned that Almond’s bill might not be legal because the employees have vested benefits that they’ve earned.

Council Chairman Tom Quirk and Councilman Julian Jones, both Democrats, have proposed a bill that would allow added provisions to continue only for former employees who work part-time in public safety jobs.

Kamenetz has not commented on the bills, saying he will “carefully review” any legislation that the council passes. Kamenetz, a Democrat, is weighing a run for governor next year.

The council is scheduled to hold a work session and public hearing on both bills at 2 p.m. Tuesday in the Historic Courthouse, 400 Washington Ave. in Towson. The bills are currently scheduled for a vote Sept. 5.

pwood@baltsun.com

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